Coming out of their Bye Week off from last week, the (3-2) New Orleans Saints this upcoming Sunday will be looking for their 3rd straight win in a row, when they host their visiting NFC South Division rivals the (3-3) Carolina Panthers at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Kickoff is set for 12:00 p.m. Noon Central standard time and will be broadcast regionally by FOX; and the game can be viewed locally in NOLA on WVUE New Orleans FOX Channel 8.
Field view of Alvin Kamara’s league-best 7 TDs! ⚜️
Next up: Saints vs Panthers on Oct. 25 (Noon CT on FOX) pic.twitter.com/ZOklfp2RdY
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 18, 2020
With that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s 5 “Bold” Predictions for this highly-anticipated match-up. And as always: we’ll count them down first beginning with #5 and then work our way down to #1.
Starting first with….
#5. PANTHERS QUARTERBACK TEDDY BRIDGEWATER’S “HOMECOMING” / RETURN TO NEW ORLEANS YIELDS MIXED RESULTS
– 55.17 completion percentage
– 216 passing yards
– 0 touchdowns
– 2 interceptions
– Sacked 4 times
– 7.45 yards-per-attempt
– 48 rushing yards from 8 carries
– 50.4 quarterback rating pic.twitter.com/EhL0ehEUYK
— Cat Crave (@CatCraveBlog) October 19, 2020
A lot has been made this week about the fact that New Orleans will be welcoming back several former teammates along with a former assistant coach inside the Superdome this Sunday, most notably of which includes starting #1 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, former Saints offensive assistant (and now Carolina’s 1st year offensive coordinator) Joe Brady, and former Saints (and now starting Panthers #2 cornerback) Eli Apple.
— NFL (@NFL) October 21, 2020
Bridgewater obviously is the one player that this game will feature most prominently, given his connection to the Saints franchise where he spent 2 seasons backing up Drew Brees and led the Black and Gold to an undefeated record (5-0); when Brees was out with a thumb injury to his throwing hand last season.
The Saints ultimately chose to not re-sign Bridgewater, and he left in Free Agency this past off-season and signed with the division rival Panthers (and their new 1st year head coach Matt Rhule), where he has led Carolina to a (3-3) win-loss record through the first 6 games; while completing over 70% of his passes (146 completions out of 206 attempts) for 1676 yards and 6 TD passes, along with 5 interceptions.
However, Bridgewater is coming off of his worst performance of the season thus far last Sunday in Carolina’s 23-16 loss at home to the Chicago Bears, and will be looking to rebound against his former Saints teammates.
In this Sunday’s contest, Bridgewater’s performance will yield “mixed results” — as he completes 18 out of 32 passing attempts for 411 passing yards and 2 passing TD’s, and rushes for an additional 58 yards on 6 carries and another TD on the ground — but commits a critical mistake near the end which eventually determines the final outcome.
#4. SAINTS RUNNING BACK ALVIN KAMARA HAS A PERFORMANCE “FOR THE AGES”
As Saints fans are well aware: Kamara through the team’s first 5 games is having the best season of his 4-year NFL career so far, as he has tallied an NFL-leading (7) total touchdowns and is also currently ranked 2nd overall in the league with 676 scrimmage yards (281 yards rushing, and another 395 yards receiving on 38 catches out of the backfield).
And those numbers potentially could be even more impressive following this Sunday’s contest, since Carolina’s defense has struggled notably at times in their first 6 games of the season at defending against the rushing attack / running game of their opponents. In Sunday’s pivotal division match-up, the 25-year old Saints superstar will end up having a performance “for the ages”, a phrase that’s commonly used to describe something unforgettable and very memorable.
Kamara gains a whopping 214 yards from scrimmage (117 yards rushing on 18 carries and a TD, along with 86 yards on 5 catches receiving) — which includes yet another highlight-reel-type catch-and-run for 56 yards — on a swing pass from Brees that he amazingly (while dodging and darting past several Panthers defenders in the process) takes all the way “to the house”.
#3. PANTHERS WIDE RECEIVER ROBBY ANDERSON IS THE LATEST PASS-CATCHER TO EMBARRASS THE SAINTS DEFENSIVE SECONDARY AND THEIR EXTREMELY POOR PASS COVERAGE
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 21, 2020
Most unfortunately, it’s been well-documented up to this point in time about the Saints defense’s notable struggles in pass coverage during their first 5 games. The Black and Gold currently have the 27th ranked pass defense in the NFL while giving up a whopping 17 yards per reception, and they are even worse at giving up points in the “red zone” (inside their own 20-yard line), where the Saints pass coverage is allowing opponents to score a jaw-dropping 85% of the time.
Translation: the Saints defensive secondary — expected to be one of the League’s very best before the season — has in fact actually been one of the very worst, at either defending the pass on deep throws down the field or in closer physical proximity towards their own goal line; regardless of whether it’s been covering an opposing wide receiver or tight end.
Things won’t be any easier for New Orleans this week either, as they will face Panthers 5th year wide receiver Robby Anderson, the 27-year-old former University of Temple star who has been one of the biggest success stories from this past 2020 NFL Free Agency signing period in the off-season; as he is currently ranked 2nd overall in the entire league in receiving yards (566) and tied for 4th in total receptions (40).
Anderson will further add to those season totals significantly inside of the Superdome this Sunday, when he burns the Saints secondary twice on deep balls and finishes the game with a grand total of 10 catches for 177 receiving yards (almost an 18-yard-per-catch average) and two receiving TD’s, on scoring receptions of 55 yards and 72 yards respectively.
#2. FINALLY — SAINTS 3RD YEAR DEFENSIVE END MARCUS DAVENPORT MAKES HIS PRESENCE FELT AFTER A VERY SLOW START TO THE SEASON
We’re not going to spend a whole lot of time this morning re-hashing just how disappointed Saints fans have been thus far this season, with the 3rd year defensive end who the franchise gave up two #1 draft picks for in the 2018 NFL Draft and that notably missed the team’s first 4 games with a variety of nagging injury issues.
However in their 30-27 overtime win against the Chargers prior to the Bye Week, Davenport finally saw his first significant game-action of the season; and as it was mentioned by New Orleans.Football analyst / writer Nick Underhill, the 24-year old did well as he rushed the passer 15 times and recorded 4 QB “pressures” and a QB “hit” in limited play, within a game-long two-man rotation with fellow defensive end Trey Hendrickson.
Davenport is expected to see even more action this coming Sunday, and he will finally give ‘Who Dats’ something to be excited about moving forward — as the former University of Texas-San Antonio star tallies 2 sacks, 5 QB “pressures”, 3 QB “hits”, and forces a key fumble late in the 4th Quarter.
#1. AS THE GAME ENTERS INTO THE 4TH QUARTER, THE SCORE IS ALL TIED UP AT 27-27 WHEN SUDDENLY….
When suddenly Panthers back-up #2 running back Mike Davis — starting another game for Carolina in place of injured All-Pro superstar and starting RB Christian McCaffrey — breaks a series of tackles and rambles for a 33-yard gain that eventually sets up a Panthers field goal which gives them a 30-27 lead with just slightly over 10 minutes remaining on the game clock.
The Saints then get the ball back on the following possession and go on a remarkable 12-play, 85-yard time-consuming TD drive that eats up nearly an entire 9 minutes; and tight end Jared Cook‘s 4-yard receiving TD from Brees on a 3rd-Down-and-Goal “bootleg” call, gives the Black and Gold the lead back by a score of 34-30 just prior to the 2-Minute Warning.
Carolina then gets the ball back with 1:55 remaining, but with a chance to potentially pull out the win at the end of the game. On the very first play from scrimmage, Bridgewater finds a wide-open WR DJ Moore for a 42-yard completion down the right sideline, giving the Panthers a 1st Down inside of the Saints 30-yard line.
Two running plays on back-to-back carries to Davis net a total of 8 more yards, and after Bridgewater throws incomplete to Anderson on a key 3rd-Down-and-2 conversion attempt, Carolina is left with no choice but to for it on 4th-Down-and-2 to go from the Saints 22-yard line.
As the ball is snapped, Bridgewater can clearly see Anderson starting to come open inside the Saints 5-yard line and a throw to him probably gives Carolina a thrilling late 4th Quarter victory — but as he plants his feet to throw the football, he is STRIPPED from behind by Davenport — who quickly falls on top of the pigskin as the Saints escape with a narrow victory and improve their overall win-loss record to (4-2) overall…..
FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 34, PANTHERS 30
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius